Top 10 International news stories of 2021

Top photo by AP, bottom left and right are by Reuters

The inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden took first place among this year’s top 10 international news stories, while news related to the novel coronavirus took second, third and 10th place. The Yomiuri Shimbun asked its readers to select the top 10 international news stories in 2021, receiving a total of 19,088 valid responses in a poll conducted Dec. 4-20.

1: Joe Biden inaugurated as U.S. president

On Jan. 20, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Former U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris became the first woman and first Black American to serve as U.S. vice president.

In his inaugural speech, Biden said, “I will be a president for all Americans,” stressing the need for unity. The president, a Democrat, expressed his determination to focus on national reconciliation, aware of the social divisions that grew during Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.

In foreign policy, he put forward a return to multilateralism, severing ties with Trump’s “America First” approach. Having positioned China as the United States’ “only competitor,” Biden drew up a basic strategy to rally allies to confront China.

In September, the White House hosted the first face-to-face summit of the leaders of the Quad, a framework for cooperation among Japan, the United States, Australia and India. It also announced the formation of AUKUS, a security cooperation alliance with Australia and Britain, sharpening its focus on the Indo-Pacific region.

Clockwise from top: AP, The Yomiuri Shimbun, AFP-Jiji

2: Omicron variant spreads rapidly

Following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa, the World Health Organization named the variant omicron on Nov. 26 after one of the letters of the Greek alphabet. The WHO classified the variant as a highly transmissible virus of concern, as it is potentially more dangerous than other variants.

Governments stepped up efforts to implement effective border control measures against the variant, but infections spread rapidly throughout the world.

On Dec. 14, when the variant had been reported in about 80 nations, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that omicron seems to be already present in most countries. A week later, more than 100 countries reported cases of infection with the variant.

Omicron spread at an astonishing pace in Britain after the nation’s first infection with the variant was reported on Nov. 27. There was a day in December when the daily omicron figure exceeded 10,000.

In the United States, omicron accounted for more than 70% of coronavirus cases in mid-December.

3: COVID-19 cases top 200 million

The total number of people infected with the novel coronavirus in the world surpassed 200 million on Aug. 4, according to a Johns Hopkins University survey. The number of cases doubled in slightly more than six months after exceeding the 100 million mark in late January, as the delta variant, which is more contagious than conventional variants, raged globally.

As of Aug. 4, about less than 3% of the world’s population had been infected.

By country, the United States has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths caused by COVID-19.

The rapid increase in hospitalizations is putting pressure on medical institutions frontline in many countries.

The issue of vaccine supply also drew attention. Vaccinations progressed in developed countries, but in developing nations that find it difficult to secure enough vaccines, they were not sufficiently distributed even to medical personnel.

Aiming to strengthen their international influence, China and Russia promoted “vaccine diplomacy” by providing vaccines produced in their countries to developing nations.


4: Military coup in Myanmar

On Feb. 1, Myanmar’s military staged a coup by declaring a state of emergency throughout the country and detaining Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of the government, and other senior members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD).

Behind the coup was the general election in November last year, in which the NLD won a landslide victory. The military insisted that there were irregularities in the election and refused to accept the results.

In August, the military launched a junta with Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing at the helm.

Protests against the coup have continued, and suppression by the military has resulted in more than 1,000 deaths. On Dec. 6, a special court set up by the military handed a prison term to Suu Kyi.


5: Taliban seizes control of Afghanistan

On Aug. 15, the Taliban Islamist group in Afghanistan seized control of Kabul and announced it had taken over the entire country. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the U.S.-backed government collapsed. Subsequently, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was completed on Aug. 30, ending the longest war in U.S. history, which lasted about 20 years following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The Taliban established an interim government, but many countries, including Japan and the United States, have not recognized it due to concerns over human rights abuses against civilians. The Taliban in the past excluded women from education and carried out public executions of civilians before being ousted from power in 2001. There are concerns that the country may return to being a hotbed of terrorism.

AFP-Jiji/Satellite image c 2021 Maxar Technologies

6: Container ship blocks Suez Canal

On March 23, the Ever Given, a large container ship owned by a Japanese company, ran aground in Egypt’s Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.

For six days, the ship blocked the canal, which is a key route for global shipping, causing huge problems in the flow of goods around the world. The Suez Canal Authority indicated that the accident was caused by a combination of factors, such as mismanagement and mechanical failure. The ship finally set sail for Europe on July 7 after about 100 days.

Korea News Service

7: North Korea tests missiles

North Korea conducted tests of a new cruise missile on Sept. 11-12. Pyongyang also said later the same month it had tested a new railway-borne missile system and a new hypersonic missile, which is believed to be difficult to intercept.

Furthermore, North Korea said Oct. 19 that it successfully test-fired a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apparently aimed to display its development of various missiles with an eye on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.


8: Trump supporters storm Capitol

Supporters of then U.S. President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 temporarily occupied the U.S. Capitol, where a joint session of both the Senate and the House of Representatives was underway to certify the election of Joe Biden as the U.S. president.

Clashes between Trump supporters and police officers caused casualties on both sides.

Trump was impeached by the House for inciting the violence, but the Senate acquitted him on Feb. 13 in an impeachment trial.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

9: Evergrande Group teeters on brink

The management and debt crisis at property developer China Evergrande Group came to light in September and sent shock waves across global markets. In early December, the government of Guangdong Province sent in a risk-management team, as Chinese authorities set out to resolve the situation. Evergrande aims to start talks with overseas creditors on extending debt repayment dates. As of the end of June, the company’s total debt was 1.9665 trillion yuan (about $308 billion). In addition to Evergrande, a number of other Chinese property developers have fallen into financial trouble.

Courtesy of MSD K.K.

10: Merck’s COVID-19 drug approved

U.S. pharmaceutical maker Merck & Co. announced on Oct. 11 that it had filed an application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an emergency-use permit for molnupiravir, an oral medication to treat COVID-19. The FDA approved the application on Dec. 23.

According to Merck, in clinical trials involving patients with mild to moderate symptoms, the drug reduced the risk of serious illness, including death and hospitalization. The drug was also granted special approval in Japan on Dec. 24.